How does hate come so easy?
2015-08-01 12:47:01 -
Human Rights

Mariaam Bhatti: Tales of a Domestic Worker


How easy some people still find it to discriminate against their domestic workers: that was the subject at hand for a columnist back home in South Africa a few weeks ago. Indeed, some can even do it with a straight face, seeing nothing wrong with it, and will continue to argue their case till the end.


Case in point for the columnist was a visit to his home by a relative who asked quite bluntly: “Do you know your domestic workers uses your shower when you are not here?” Yes, he replied uninterestedly, but the questioner continued: “And are you okay with that?” Again, yes, because he saw no reason to ask her to stop.


He went on to explain in the column that he knew his domestic worker lived in a shack where people don’t have baths or showers, and use plastic tubs to collect water for washing. So he understood that on coming across a proper bath or shower, of course she would want to scrub up properly at the end of the day. What could be wrong with that? Besides, if he was okay with her hand-washing his clothes, why not let her use the shower?


On another occasion, he recalled being with a group of work colleagues when one of them complained of how “primitive: her domestic worker was. Apparently she was dismayed that the worker had deep-fried cakes in olive oil. As a result, she was going to deduct the equivalent of the price of the bottle of oil from her worker’s salary.


The columnist argued was that the employer lacked understanding that most likely the domestic worker did not know the difference between ordinary cooking oil, such as sunflower oil, and olive oil, or how expensive it was. Had the employer explained, or had she had the worker had any experience of buying olive oil herself, she wouldn’t have made the mistake.


That prompted the rest of the group to share stories of the things they allowed, or did not allow, their domestic workers to do in the house. When he used his own example of allowing his domestic worker to shower after work, he was variously met with anger and dismay, but mostly horror.


I liked his conclusion, that “many times we complain when people who have the least take the least from us when we are fortunate than them to have so much.”


It reminded me of a different but similar incident I experienced during an interview with a family somewhere in Dublin 6, when I was asked if I had ever worked for an Irish family before. I had worked for one already, in my view, but she meant a native Irish family. At the time, I responded honestly that I had not but told her that the family I had been working for were living in Ireland for 10 years and they had their Irish citizenship.


When I think about it now, I kind of understand that families could be different culturally and have different routines, but to me, minding children is all about supporting their development in all aspects, and making sure they are safe, fed and happy. And that is easily transferable across children of different cultures. I don’t see why race is a big deal.


Now when I look back at that question, I ask myself, what was that about? If I were a good and experienced childminder but had not worked with a native Irish family, should that have disqualified me from looking after such children?…



Mariaam Bhatti is a member of the Domestic Workers Action Group and Force Labour Action Group of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland

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